Monthly Archives: June 2011

Week 2 Photographs of ‘The Arrival’ by Anna Nguyen

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Observers on ‘The Arrival’ – Week 2

Photo by Anna Nguyen

“We hit the ground running this week with frameworks for all the major scenes. The process of building up the layers – images, movement, circus skills, text, storytelling and soon sound, costume and projection – is necessarily slow. However, more and more I think that everyone is beginning to understand and thrive within this system of working. Image by image and moment by moment, Kristine is allowing the performers to find their own way of telling their part of the story while not losing a sense of ensemble and bigger stage picture.

I came into this process for various reasons but one key question for me to explore was how does one organically incorporate circus skills into a narrative – or vice versa. Of course the book, The Arrival, has come first and has provided inspiration for Kristine, Sita and the other members of the creative team. So how is Kristine incorporating the performers into what was already a strong artistic and aesthetic vision? I have enjoyed how much she gets involved, whether in the volleyball warm-ups, nurturing an improvisation or energetically demonstrating the style of movement necessary. Not all directors I have worked with have been so “hands on”, and this is a way of working that really appeals to me. I think it has also won over the company. So, although scenes and structure may have been decided before rehearsals began, in the rehearsal room it is crucially the performers who are given freedom to improvise, contribute to text, voice ideas and hone their routines. Going back to the comments from last week about director and performer/actor each offering something that the other can’t do, I think it is important for a director of circus to acknowledge that the circus artist knows infinitely more about their discipline and use this to the advantage of the process.

I have also been interested in the way that the performers’ own languages have been used so regularly. As text is generated by them and captured by Sita, they are often encouraged to improvise in Polish, Spanish, French, Arabic… Obviously in a play about generations of immigrants toLondonthis works well, but there is something else happening here too. There is little artifice and the performers are often “being” as opposed to “acting”. For a group with some initial resistance to “acting”, they are now doing just that simply by playing in the space. I would be very interested to watch Kristine work on an already established text that couldn’t necessarily be adapted so freely.

My favourite moment from week two came on Friday when we worked on each scene we had in chronological order. The section where Obi, the father, leaves his son inNigeriawas particularly moving. It was a potent combination of music composed by Felix Cross, simple text, and movement created by Antonio on the Chinese Pole. It will be a powerful example of how circus can be used within a narrative and for me highlighted what this process is all about. When I see, for example, Kat perform an incredible trick on the Cloud Swing (I could name check anyone in the company here), my immediate reaction is consistently one of raw amazement and total engagement. This is something I experience less commonly watching a “conventional play” in a theatre. Maybe by combining the disciplines, the one can enhance the other. There is also something thrilling about being in a rehearsal room where a normally impossible instruction such as “Climb that ladder upside down, fly across the room performing a somersault and land in a double back flip” (!) can become real. This observership is opening my eyes to so many possibilities and I am certainly keener than ever to pursue the idea of directing circus.”

Amy Draper – Observer

Director Kristine Landon-Smith watching rehearsals. Photo Credit: Anna Nguyen

“In sitting down to write this blog I found myself striving for the revelatory idea or erudite comment that would illuminate the development and creativity of the last fortnight in the rehearsal room.

And I strove and strove. And still I couldn’t think of anything, which was puzzling because I knew so much had happened, being in the rehearsal room was thrilling because of the physical skill of the artists and the delicacy of this new language of circus narrative that was being cultivated, so much that was exciting and incredible. So why was writing about it so hard? So instead I paused and looked at the photographs that my fellow observer Anna Nyugen had taken of the rehearsal process.

And then I saw the most important thing about these two weeks – and the most important thing I had learned from Kristine: look at your actors, look and really see, not what is wanted by the director but what is needed for the actor.

And what I saw were images of raw skill and moments of company play and a depiction of a director immersed amongst these artists involved in candid conversations with the cast. And what I recalled instantly, was the amazing development of the last two weeks of these highly skilled individuals into a great ensemble, tentative forays into acting were now captivating scenes which held the entire room, and how these circus artists had found some real moments of beauty and emotion in the narrative from their skill.

And again things sort of ‘clicked’, like when I was on last year’s Actor/Director Lab. I understood that even though the cultural context may have other layers involved now (as well as different nationalities, the individual performers’ disciplines inform this) the process of playing with the actor and seeing what is needed for them has not changed, just as the frame of working has expanded to encompass the scale of work being created. I saw that play was still essential, and trust me when I say that seeing a skilled circus artist in full flight (sometimes literally) playing with their discipline in an improvisation is incredible to watch; improvisations were still set up and played and moments that they created were captured and cultivated. And that patience and courage is required by both performer and director, the patience to afford both the chance to exercise their skill in complement to the other – although the rate at which we work is highly swift and efficient – and the courage of both to stay the course even when one is uncertain where it may lead but definite that there is something there to discover.

The resolve to trust one’s own instincts is great to watch in any artist but the instinct to trust another’s is the mark of a great artist. I have seen that this fortnight.”

Ian Nicholson – Observer

‘The Arrival’ Anna Nguyen Photographs

‘The Arrival’ Rehearsal Photographs by Observer Anna Nguyen

Observers on ‘The Arrival’ – Week 1

Arrival Rehearsals Week 1. Photo: Hebe Reilly

“The more I watch this process, the more seduced I am by the art of circus. It is simply phenomenal watching the performers practice with their equipment and I find myself asking why are we so enthralled by circus? What is it about the Circus that is so awe-inspiring?

This investigation into the marriage of Circus and Storytelling is brand new, and really exciting. As we come towards the end of week one, I ask myself, will this marriage work – can there be the perfect use of circus skill to advance an emotionally sophisticated story?

“I’m curious also”

Today was an interesting warm up into the collaborative process of creating The Arrival. It was interesting hearing the circus artists describe themselves as “curious”.  I suppose we are all curious – this is a real investigation into the possibilities of mixing styles, disciplines and practices and this afternoon I believe we began to see how this could work – as we create a storm on the deck of a ship.

Three girls sleep in their aerial hoops, swinging gently in the wind, when they are thrown off at the impact of the wave, two artists search for their rope and straps, dangling from above and begin to climb to the sky for safety.  A huge whirlwind in the form of the German Wheel captures one man in its spin and velocity. Seeming out of control, the performer demonstrates a physical skill whilst also capturing the emotional narrative of this storm – and this is what the project is searching for, and perhaps what the artists are curious about.

It is an integration of the circus skills – which are very impressive – and the theatrical power of well told, emotionally sophisticated stories.

I am excited. And I’m curious also. It has made me think about my own practice. How does a successful chorus come together?

This is a new venture – the marriage of great circus skill with a strong, well told story, in a landscape the audience is able to emotionally invest in. And it begs the question: do we emotionally invest in circus? As an artist said, their work is a heightened reality, magical. My heart leaps to see the girl on the Cloud Swing, or the performers climb the Chinese pole with no effort. Is this awe enough? Can it be mixed with theatre which ignites a different appetite in audiences?

This is a voyage of discovery and I heard Kristine ask one of the performers on Monday – what can I give you? She asks again today, in the creation of a form of Jive on the Chinese pole – what can you give me?

I think this is a new conversation in the performance world, and the performers are starting to answer – as one boy cycles through the street, never looking up from the newspaper he is reading or the apple he is eating – a lively and new performance.”

Hebe Reilly – Observer

Observers on ‘The Arrival’ – Week 1

Arrival Rehearsals Week 1. Photo: Hebe Reilly

“Kristine is creating such a strongly image based work that it’s a real pleasure to watch. It feels very filmic in that she is setting up a scene almost like how I imagine you would set up a shot for film… putting all the elements in place and then seeing how it plays out. We’ve worked on a total of five scenes thus far: the boat scene (including a storm at sea), the football game, a street scene, a factory scene and a farewell scene between father and son.

Each scene has a distinctive feel to it and I really am impressed by how much Kristine gets in amongst the performers to develop and explore ideas. A great deal of thought and preparation has clearly gone into the work and yet each scene seems fresh and in the moment.

When Sita comes in as a writer, she has thus far not handed any text to the performers. She has, quite to the contrary, come in, listened and watched improvisations and captured text that she then takes a way and integrates into the script. In that way the work is always very close to the performers.

More and more, heightened moments incorporating the performers’ skills, or ‘tricks’ as they call them, are starting to emerge. Acrobatics are used to express spontaneous bursts of emotion, a hula-hoop act expresses casual indifference, and people are running across the space, swinging on ropes, doing hand stands or walking up a pole, always in carefully selected moments. All the artistry is tied into what is happening in the emotional narrative of the piece – playfully deliberate.

I have thus far worked primarily on text based work and even when I’ve devised work, the spoken text is what drives the story forward. I think that has led perhaps to more or less linear work. The Arrival seems to be different, sure there is a story line that threads its way through from one scene to the next, but at the same time it’s all so three dimensional, so vivid and visually satisfying.  It just looks like a lot of fun to come into the rehearsal room and construct these living images in collaboration with these fantastic performers.

What has also struck me is the force and beauty of the performers’ presence. They are all highly trained physically and come into the space with such a strong physical presence. They all have their own disciplines as well, which often involves some piece of equipment (hoops, straps, rope, pole, cycle, you name it) that they have a special relationship with. Then there’s a real joy in playing that they all seem to share. Every free minute they have they seem to use to warm up, work on their equipment or play around on someone else’s equipment. The trampolines at the back of the space get a lot of use in breaks. It is going to be very exciting to see how this joy of play, integrated into the narrative arch of the production, is going to work in performance. One week down, two (and a bit) weeks to go before we get there. Can’t wait!”

Arne Pohlmeier – Observer

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